2018 Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Ondrej Kase, Samuel Girard highlight new class of sleepers
Many Fantasy leagues are won in the late rounds of drafts, so set your sights on these burgeoning players.
Imagine how plain your Fantasy team would look if you completely ignored the bargain bin stuffed with potential breakout performers. Not only are sleepers fun to own, but drafting the next William Karlsson could put you one step closer to world domination -- or, at the very least, a virtual title. While players can burst onto the scene for any number of reasons, the picks below are subjectively included with the promise of an increased role and/or having shown enough in past seasons to justify a hard look in just about any format.
Ondrej Kase, Anaheim Ducks
Kase is an exciting player due to his propensity for the highlight-reel goal and pulling through in the clutch. The Czech winger was remarkably efficient this past season, notching 20 goals -- including five game-winners -- and 38 points while averaging just below 14 minutes per game. Kase has also started 55.6 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone over 119 regular-season games, but we're also talking about an underrated line defender, as evidenced by his career plus-17 rating. A casual Fantasy player paging through the Ducks roster might overpay for a more recognizable name like Corey Perry, but Kase is pound-for-pound the smarter option due to his upside
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Aho is a sleeper in a relative sense. While he won't be a forgotten man on the heels of a 65-point (29 goals, 36 assists) sophomore campaign that topped all Hurricanes, there's reason to believe the Finn will join the exclusive point-per-game class in his third year. Carolina's new owner, Tom Dundon, made it abundantly clear upon taking over that Aho is the only untouchable player on the roster, which seemed more like a compliment to Aho than a deliberate slight on Teuvo Teravainen or venerable defenseman Justin Faulk. A mainstay on the top power-play unit, there should be as much playing time as Aho can handle -- just don't go making the mistake of drafting Sebastian Aho of the New York Islanders, the Swedish defenseman with the same name.
Casey Mittelstadt, Buffalo Sabres
When a college prospect secures a maximum, entry-level deal with a rebuilding club and goes on to make his NHL debut that same year, you've got to keep tabs on him. Mittelstadt enthralled scouts with his first-rate offensive chops for the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers in 2016-17 and the University of Minnesota this past year, notching 30 points at each stop. Naysayers were quick to play up the center's physical limitations after Mittelstadt failed to record a single pull-up at the 2017 draft combine, but he silenced those critics in short order by recording five points in his first six games at the highest level. The Sabres landing a supposed generational defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin with the 2018 first overall draft pick -- in addition to prying Jeff Skinner away from the Hurricanes -- should result in an invigorated Buffalo power play that includes the 19-year-old (20 in November).
Sonny Milano, Columbus Blue Jackets
Let's take a serious look at the 16th overall pick from 2014. Milano ranked fourth in the league in shooting percentage (20.3) among skaters who appeared in at least 50 games in 2017-18, and while that's generally regarded as an unsustainable rate of production, consider that the shifty winger had three shots ring off the post, three that sailed over the net and a whopping 26 that went wide of the cage. Milano burst onto the scene despite averaging only 11:39 of ice time; project his numbers over a full season along with more puck luck and a modest bump in playing time and you could be looking at a true gem. Oh, and don't forget that Milano is entering a contract year.
Samuel Girard, Colorado Avalanche
Acquired in a three-team trade that saw Matt Duchene packing his bags for Ottawa and Kyle Turris bound for Nashville last November, it's safe to assume Girard wouldn't have been involved in that blockbuster swap if he was some run-of-the-mill rearguard. The 20-year-old has produced 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) through 73 regular-season contests at the highest level. Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar experimented with using Girard as a complementary weapon to the prolific Tyson Barrie on the top pairing last season, and that's a role that could stick in 2018-19.
Julius Honka, Dallas Stars
Jim Montgomery, the new head coach of the Stars, operates with a philosophy dubbed "the process", which refers to a list of seven things that he expects from his players each game. In short, he's a big fan of hits, playing a disciplined brand of hockey and winning battles all over the ice. Will Honka earn the trust of the Stars' third coach in as many years? Time will tell, though early reports out of Dallas suggest that the Finn will earn more ice time in the coming season. Honka -- who was selected 14th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft -- has only gathered nine points over 58 games in a two-year span. He averaged 16:52 of ice time under Lindy Ruff compared to a 13:01 rate for Ken Hitchcock last season, but sometimes all a player needs is a real chance to shine. Honka's already familiar with the power play, so buy into him before he's a household name in the Fantasy spectrum.
Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets
Morrissey's fearless, heavy-hitting style made him look like a natural in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, as he redirected 41 shots and laid into the opposition 27 times over 16 games. Still, Morrissey -- whose agent is negotiating terms of a contract extension for the restricted free agent -- isn't what you would call a "one-trick pony." With burly playmaker Jacob Trouba designated as his primary defensive partner, Morrissey amassed seven goals and 19 assists over 81 regular-season contests last season. There's plenty of untapped potential for Fantasy owners to drill into considering he was Winnipeg's 2013 first-round (13th overall) draft pick. Should Jets coach Paul Maurice let him loose on the power play, we could bear witness to something resembling Kris Letang lite.
Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche
Opportunity knocks for Grubauer since he's no longer stuck behind one of the game's elite goalies in Braden Holtby. The former was actually designated as the Capitals' go-to netminder to open the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs until Blue Jackets foiled the experiment by hanging eight goals on him through Games 1 and 2. You know the rest of this story, but it won't define Grubauer -- his name is engrained on the Stanley Cup, after all — and now the 2010 fourth-round pick finds himself out west with a burgeoning Avalanche squad that went from a franchise-worst standing to a postseason berth in a year's span. Grubauer, who carries a robust 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage over 101 career games, is no lock to supplant Semyon Varlamov as Colorado's chief netminder, though it's easy to envision a 1A-1B setup with Gruby not sharing the same injury concerns as Varlamov.
Carter Hutton Buffalo Sabres
Hutton is fresh off a banner season with the Blues that featured a 17-7-3 record, 2.09 GAA and .931 save percentage over 26 starts and 32 total appearances. While the top brass in St. Louis probably don't want to admit that Hutton overtook Jake Allen as the team's preferred starter, the numbers don't lie. Hutton finished with the best ratios of anyone who'd been in goal for at least 25 games last year, and the Sabres wasted no time getting him on the books for three years and $8.25 million. As for Linus Ullmark, if he was starter material, Hutton probably wouldn't be in the picture. Best of all, 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin and burgeoning forward Casey Mittelstadt will join forces with the likes of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and two-time Stanley Cup winner Conor Sheary, which promises to take some pressure off Hutton as he looks to prove he can endure 50-plus starts.
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